Now or never.
That has to be the mantra for Penn men’s lacrosse from this point on.
With just two games remaining in the Ivy League schedule, the Quakers (5-6, 1-3 Ivy) are on the outside looking in when it comes to conference tournament contention.
After last weekend’s gut wrenching loss to Brown, Penn sits fifth in the Ivy standings. Since only the top four teams make the tournament, the pressure is mounting. Any margin for error that the Quakers may have had after defeating Princeton to open conference play has since been obliterated.
A single loss effectively ensures that the Red and Blue will not see the postseason, and so, this weekend’s matchup against Harvard, the Ivy’s current third-place team, is a must-win.
As head coach Mike Murphy summarizes, “If we want to keep playing in May, we need to win this game.”
Unfortunately for the Quakers, they technically don’t even control their own destiny. Wins over Harvard (7-3, 2-1) and then perennial bottom-dweller Dartmouth would elevate Penn’s conference record to 3-3. But Brown, the conference's fourth ranked team, would only have to win one of its three remaining Ivy games to also finish with a record of 3-3. Such a deadlock would favor the Bears, as they captured the tiebreaker with last Saturday’s win.
And so, Penn's best chance is Harvard.
A loss to Penn would drop Harvard’s conference record to 2-2 with Princeton and Yale still left to play. Although this year’s Princeton team has not been the Ivy League force of the past, the Tigers remain a dangerous squad capable of playing spoiler against Harvard. Even more realistically, the Crimson could lose to Yale, the Ivy League’s top-ranked and most complete team.
A loss to either of those two teams, in conjunction with a loss this weekend to Penn, would drop Harvard’s record to 3-3, even with that of Penn assuming Quaker wins over Harvard and Dartmouth. However, in this hypothetical scenario, Penn would own the tiebreaker thanks to the head-to-head win over the Crimson.
However, neither the players nor the coaches are concerned with such hypotheticals. Instead, the focus is solely inward from here on out.
“We’re not worrying about any outside factors,” senior defenseman Connor Keating said. “We’re just trying to control what we can control. We know that we need to win out from here, and whatever happens from there, happens.”
Coach Murphy echoes his star player’s sentiments exactly.
“We’re just really focused on trying to prepare to beat Harvard,” Murphy said. “There’s so much lacrosse to be played that it’s hard to even figure out all of the iterations of what’s possible [with regards to tiebreakers], so we don’t even worry about that honestly.”
So instead, Murphy opts for the more simple relevant focus.
“If we beat Harvard, we’re still alive. If we don’t beat Harvard, we’re not.”
That “now or never” and “win or go home” attitude resonates particularly among the seniors, none of whom could have foreseen such a potentially sudden end to their Quaker careers.
Keating, one of the most accomplished players in recent Penn lacrosse history, does not plan to go down without a fight, and he senses that same resilience among his teammates.
“We, as a senior class, know that if we lose this game, we’re done….Looking around the locker room, you can see that guys are fired up and ready to go,” Keating said. “We have a good rivalry with Harvard, so we’re excited to play and to keep our season going.”
And so, the Quakers look forward.
It’s too late to worry about what could have been done differently in that one-goal loss to Brown, and it’s pointless to worry about all of the standings fluctuations and tiebreakers beyond their control.
All the Quakers can do is focus on the task at hand, and that task is simple: beat Harvard.
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